Aug 15, 2007 7:38pm
Re: gd symphony review
I can't understand why anyone would be offended.
Well, I suppose there are those who will choose to immediately write off the concept out of hand, so that might be the root of any "offensive" reaction that it will possibly prompt. But it's their loss.
Clearly, it isn't for everyone, including many a hardcore Head who will not derive any enjoyment from it even if they make the effort to do so. But I was just listening to it last night, and I was surprised as to just how successful of a venture it really is.
There is no escaping the fact that it is a "novelty" piece. The question is, though, can it stand on its own as a credible artistic statement? Beyond its being another footnote to the long, strange trip, I honestly don't believe it does. That is unfortunate for those who worked to bring it together, but Grateful Dead songs are just that: Grateful Dead songs. They were created by the band, among whatever other reasons, to give them both a form to corral their nightly experiments in sound, and to offer their own contribution to folk, country and blues traditions. Of course, their song styles evolved as those who wrote them matured, but the point remains that they were most likely never intended to be anything more than Grateful Dead songs.
On the upside to the work, and there most definitely is an upside, Jerry composed a lot of wonderful melodies and Johnson approaches them with great reverence and imagination. This is not "classical" music in an academic sense: only echoes of Mozart and Beethoven remain. It does, however, bear a strong resemblance to Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, not to mention a distinct Gershwin-like feel to the arrangement of Blues For Allah.
As the article mentions, also included is Sugar Magnolia, the only Weir melody selected for the symphonic treatment. This was the biggest surprise to my ear, with the country-tinged air of the original American Beauty recording being virtually absent, but its unmistakable musical strains are not at all lost.
I could not help thinking throughout what a shame it is that Jerry did not live to see this work come to pass. How proud he surely would have been of his music getting such a serious treatment. One has to assume that Phil is delighted with it, as well he should be. Mountains of the Moon is lovely, and a thoroughly new perspective of every song selected can be discovered here.
For what it's worth, it is a success. If I Had The World To Give proves how remiss the Dead might have been by not including the song in their standard performance repertoire. China Doll sounds tailor-made for a full orchestra. To Lay Me Down is uniquely sublime, nicely complimenting the tender nature inherent in the original. And St. Stephen serves well as the Grateful Dead opener for the work, with Johnson leaning heavily on the "Lady finger" bridge as the predominant theme for the arrangement.
Along with its hits, it is not without its misses. Bird Song is too heavily syncopated and lacks the airy swirl that the Dead brought to it. Funiculi, Funicula is an interesting choice to introduce and then close the piece, providing a bit of the circus-like atmosphere that was part and parcel of Dead shows, but since it is not, in fact, a Grateful Dead song, it's pretty much a sore thumb. The biggest disappointment, though, is Stella Blue. It is one of the most beautiful songs in the entire Garcia catalog and one could assume that it would be perfect for a project such as this. But it winds up sounding clumsy, forced, and fairly well unrecognizable.
Much different than the Deadicated collection of covers, Dead Symphony no. 6 does not simply offer a new spin on Dead tunes from established artists. It is a bigger, much more ambitious presentation. For better or worse, it is inextricable from the music as it was originally conceived, and I continue to maintain skepticism about its life after this recording, but that does not take away from how well Johnson and the orchestra do pull it off. The woman who wrote the review for The Frederick New-Post Online wonders why it took so long for someone to put something like this together. But I'm satisfied with it, if for no other reason than the fact that I never saw it coming.
This post was modified by BryanE on 2007-08-16 02:38:05